Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Speyside Way 36.5 mile Ultramarathon 2011

This was race 8 of the 9 race SUMS this year. Although this is a 'shortie' compared to others in the series, I knew it would be tough in places so planned on a 7 hour completion time, but would be happy with around 7 and half hours.
I drove up to camp at Findochty (3 miles east of Buckie) on Friday night and pitched my tent right on the edge of the site, overlooking the rocky beach. This seemed like a great idea at the time, the sea air and the views were stunning. The early evening was peaceful, warm and still, with the water gently lapping onto the lower beach. I walked along the beach onto the golf course and returned to the village using the cliff top 'Moray Coastal Path' and watched the sun slowly dip below the horizon from the harbour area. Amazing. Had something to eat and sorted my running stuff for the next day, so I wouldn't be in a rush in the morning, and laid out what I would have for breakfast. By 9 o'clock it was starting to get dark so decided to try and get some sleep as I would be up early.
As soon as I got settled into my sleeping bag the wind got up and the waves began crashing against the rocks just below my tent. Crashing all bloody night long!!! So between the wind, the crashing and the sounds of the local wildlife coming out to play, I had a restless night. Listening to the waves resulted in 3 trips to the toilet during the night, which came with having to phaff about in my wee tent to put on clothes and then stagger through the darkness to find the bog. And in the early hours of the morning it was baltic!! Next time I must remember to keep an empty bottle to hand! So I had a fairly sleep deprived night. All too soon when I drifted off my alarm was sounding at 5.30am. It was dull and overcast when I got out the tent. Had my pot of porridge, cream rice with fruit and a banana. Sleeping bag and tent were soon rolled up and packed away. Headed to the toilet block to get changed into my running gear and noticed another couple of guys at the top end of the site were up and about too. (I've since discovered this to be Mark Cooper and his support team) Trying to be quiet at this time in the morning is not something I do easily and after banging about reloading my car I was on my way to Buckie. The race 'HQ' was at Buckie High School and all runners had to be registered and ready to go to the start for 7.30am. I was one of the first to arrive here and walked into the school to get my race number. Soon many other runners were arriving and getting organised. This is essentially a self supported event using the tried and tested 'dropbag' system at checkpoints. However, most runners had support teams with them to provide extra back up where and when  required along the route. My parents had again given up their weekend to drive up and be on hand at various points to provide support, encouragement and logistical and nutritional assistance. Some runners were heading straight to the start with their support teams, but i was one of many runners who were using the bus service being provided by the race organisers. Once I handed in my two checkpoint drop bags I headed back to the car to re-check my running kit and my waist pack. The weather wasn't too bad but decided not to take any chances and would carry my Montane H20 jacket just in case. I saw a few familiar faces around the school car park and had a chat with Karin McKendrick who was up supporting her husband Bill today. Soon we were told to board the busses for what I thought was a quick drive down the road, but forgot it's 30 odd miles away to the  start at Ballindalloch. The convoy of three buses set off and around 35-40 minutes later we were at the start area. Immediately I made a beeline for the toilet!! Having drunk about a litre of fluid at the school , the bumpy bus ride had loosened my bowels somewhat!!
Whilst pacing up and down at the muster area I met Jonathan MacKintosh again and for a few minutes talked about subjects including the Devil O' the Highlands race we had run a few weeks ago, todays race and bodily function malfunctions (which will be the subject of a new blog im setting up called ''). Sarah, the race Director, then called us all over for a wee race briefing and wished us all good luck. As we walked to the start I saw a few faces I recognised, including Mark Cooper (still not met), Ada Stewart and Ray McCurdy (I wouldn't see Ray again today, but i'm presuming he finished). I had split the race into three 'timed' sections, which happened to also be the three sections between checkpoints. In addition to using my bog standard stopwatch I was going to use 'Endomondo', a Blackberry phone GPS and tracking app to keep an eye on pacing and distance covered. I'm not really a fan of this kind of tech' as I like to run just for the feel of it. Does that make sense? Probably not!! But maybe by starting to use it, it may help improve my pacing. Time will tell. The first section to Craigellachie was around 13 miles and fairly flat terrain on good 'trail' paths. For the first couple of miles the pack ran together, mainly due to it being a narrow path that prevented easy passing. Once the path widened I decided to lift the pace a tiny bity and passed a few people. Around the two mile mark I passed Ada, who had pulled up with a calf problem. I asked if she was ok and she said she would walk it off and hopefully be ok to run further up. It was only at the end I found out from her friend Terry that she had had to abandon. Hopefully she will make a quick recovery from the injury. So on we ran. During this first leg at various points along it I kept meeting Karin McKendrick cheering the runners on as we ran past. The encouragement was much appreciated. I found this first hour went in so very slowly and I thought more time had actually passed. I hadn't planned on checking the GPS thing until the first checkpoint so was relying on how I felt it was going. By now the field was pretty strung out along the route and only occassionally did I see another runner. This second hour of this first section reminded a bit of the D33 race and turned my thoughts to George Reid and Karen Donoghue who were running the UTMB event. Respect. I ran with another guy for the last mile leading into Craigellachie. I felt good on arriving here and was 10 minutes ahead of my predicted time. Checkpoint 1 in 1 hour 50 minutes. I had a drop bag here, but my parents had stayed here last night at a Bed and Breakfast and met me here as I ran in. I spoke about being concerned that I was going a bit too fast as I knew the next few miles were vertically challenging!! So after some encouragement, a quick drink and I refilled my bottles I was away within 5 minutes.
As I left here I noticed Bill McKendrick arriving, which surprised me as he is a far better runner and thought he was far ahead of me and then also realised thats why I kept seeing Karin, she had been waiting for him to pass before moving onto another location further up. Just after leaving from here the route joins a tarmac road then landrover track and begins to climb for a mile or so. But this is just a warm up for the main climb of the day, Ben Aigen (470m).
It was on this first little climb that I caught one runner and was then myself caught by a few others. We ran within sight of each other, strung out along this section. We got a brief respite on a flat bit before a decent and then the main climb up the side of Ben Aigen. It's a very rocky path on the climb here and the other runners who caught me, including Bill McK, had pulled away a bit in front. We eventually all had to slow to walk as running soon became tough on this climb. On the walk I managed to pull back Bill and another two runners. Bill looked over his shoulder at me and on a 'less steep' bit pulled away and I wouldn't see him again today. I was behind a female runner now, who I would stay in contact with on the climb and on most of the decent. A few times we passed each other but on the road section after Ben Aigen, passing a distillery she pulled away and vanished.  I knew I had lost a wee bit of time on the climb but wasn't getting worried yet of achieving my target time. On one of the short decents on the Ben Aigen path I met up with and ran with a runner (forgotten his name) I had met back during the D33. He's a colourful character, which matches his language!! He talked about the route and gave me some great advice on some of the dodgy underfoot conditions ahead. The main decent on the hill takes you down off the rocky road onto a horrible grassy section with lots of hidden rocks. This was where I ran on myself as he was stopping for a milkshake when he met one of his support team by a tent at the side of the track at this route junction. We would encounter each other for the rest of this section several times, passing one another at various points before the second checkpoint. I then ran with a few runners for a round a mile or so. One included Ada's friend Terry (I didn't know it at the time), but he soon pulled away.
 (The 9 photos above were 'liberated' from several Speyside Way websites and route guides)
Just before the second checkpoint there is a gravity defying decent and then an equally brutal climb to the dropbag point and checkpoint, just outside of Fochabers. (see map below)
Like many others, I had been under the impression that this dropbag point was actually in Fochabers and had expected to have seen my parents here. But it was only for dropbags and marshalls. As it was, my drop bag was enough for me and soon refilled my bottles, had a pot of custard, crisps, gel and a can of coke. Another runner was going round everyone offering strawberries as he had too many. Very tasty, thanks. After around 6-7 minutes here I decided to push on and hoped to see my parents before the finish in case I needed more supplies. I had fallen around 10 - 15 minutes behind schedule and wasn't sure if I had enough in the tank to get me to the end under 7 hours. So I would settle for 7 and a half.  When I arrived in Fochabers my parents had managed to catch up with me and had my kit bag and extra supplies with them.  I hadn't expected to see them so it was great to get some encouragement and the change to get some more food/drink before the last 10 miles. I decided to change race packs here and use my one bottle pack over the last section. I also left my waterproof jacket and all the other silly stuff we carry on these events. I only took the lighter pack, a 600ml bottle of juice and my phone. I had half a can of Red Bull and asked them to meet me at Spey Bay for the other half. On leaving I decided to break this last section into two 'dog legs' of 5 miles each. The first being to Spey Bay and the second to Buckie. If I could cover each of these legs in roughly an hour I would get my 7 hour target. It would be tough but possible if I didn't encounter any problems along the way. Shortly after leaving Fochabers I came over all rejuvinated and even caught and passed two runners on the run to Spey Bay. As I approached the bay I could see some marshalls had set up a table with drinks and sweets. I gratefully took a cup of water and headed over to my parents car. I asked my parents for the other half of the can of Red Bull. They had tranferred it to a plastic bottle and when my dad handed it to me i commented that it looked like a bottle of pee!! (hoping he hadn't handed me the wrong bottle!!) I downed it and ran on. I had a little over an hour to get to Buckie within my target. 5 miles left. This remaining section is run along the coastal paths and the wind was hitting me on one side which made the going tough. Soon I could see the church spires poking up in the distance, but they never seemed to be getting any nearer. So I decided not to look at them and just concentrate on getting to Buckie. I ran a bit, walked 30 seconds, ran a bit, walked 30 seconds.............As i entered buckie I really began to dispair I wouldn't get 7hours as the pavement just seemed to go forever. At one point I thought i should have turned right sooner as I saw no direction signs in sight. I was fair gubbed from running with that wind, but then I got a glimpse of a bright orange bib in the distance, a marshal at last. I thought this was the turning, but no. Keep going to the next marshall was the instruction. I kept going. Then around a corner and a marshall. And my dad walking my way. He saw me, turned and began running away!! You are almost there the marshall said. I hate those words sometimes!! Its a nasty wee hill finish to this race. I passed my dad and turned into the grassy finishing area, hearing my mum shouting encouragement and crossed the line. Had i? Did I?
6 hours 57 mnutes and some seconds. Excellent, by the skin of my teeth I had achieved my 7 hour target.
A huge well done to Sarah and her team of marshalls and volunteers for running a great event today. Great medal as well and a wee bottle of whisky. Well done to all who started, regardless of finishing or on your completion time. Big thanks to my parents again for encouraging me to keep pushing forward. I didn't take any mid run photos today as I wanted to concentrate on the running, so if you want to see the scenery along the way (put a few I nicked on here), you'll just have to run it next year!! And I wasn't going to state the obvious, but I was epically magnificent yet again. Happy Running.


  1. well done Colin, and well done agian to your parents who are clearly a cracking support crew for you :o)

  2. Great run Colin - sounds like a nice route. Good luck in the Stirling 10k - it's supposed to be a good route for a PB.

  3. Well done Colin - cracking report (and photos!!) too.

    My support spoke to your parents at the race - they said to say hello!

    Hope everything else is going well,